Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
163. The Blind Beggar’s Daughter of Bednall-Green


IT was a blind beggar, had long lost his sight,
He had a fair daughter of beauty most bright;
And many a gallant brave suitor had she,
For none was so comely as pretty Bessee.

And though she was of favour most faire,
Yet seeing she was but a poor beggar’s heyre,
Of ancyent housekeepers despiséd was she,
Whose sons came as suitors to pretty Bessee.

Wherefore in great sorrow fair Bessy did say,
‘Good father, and mother, let me go away        10
To seek out my fortune, whatever it be.’
This suit then they granted to pretty Bessee.

Then Bessy, that was of beauty so bright,
All clad in grey russet, and late in the night,
From father and mother alone parted she;        15
Who sighéd and sobbèd for pretty Bessee.

She went till she came to Stratford-le-Bow;
Then knew she not whither, nor which way to go:
With tears she lamented her hard destinìe,
So sad and so heavy was pretty Bessee.        20

She kept on her journey until it was day,
She went unto Rumford along the high way;
Where at the Queen’s Arms entertainèd was she:
So fair and well favoured was pretty Bessee.

She had not been there a month to an end,
But master and mistress and all was her friend:
And every brave gallant, that once did her see,
Was straightway enamour’d of pretty Bessee.

Great gifts they did send her of silver and gold,
And in their songs daily her love was extoll’d;        30
Her beauty was blazèd in every degree;
So fair and so comely was pretty Bessee.

The young men of Rumford in her had their joy;
She showed herself courteous, and modestly coy;
And at her commandèment still would they be;        35
So fair and so comely was pretty Bessee.

Four suitors at once unto her did go;
They cravèd her favour, but still she said ‘no;
I would not wish gentles to marry with me.’—
Yet ever they honoured pretty Bessee.        40

The first of them was a gallant young knight,
And he came unto her disguised in the night:
The second a gentleman of good degree,
Who wooèd and suèd for pretty Bessee.

A merchant of London, whose wealth was not small,
He was the third suitor, and proper withal:
Her master’s own son the fourth man must be,
Who swore he would die for pretty Bessee.

‘And, if thou wilt marry with me,’ quoth the knight,
‘I’ll make thee a lady with joy and delight;        50
My heart so enthrallèd is by thy beautìe,
That soon I shall die for pretty Bessee.’

The gentleman said, ‘Come, marry with me,
As fine as a lady my Bessy shall be:
My life is distressèd: O hear me,’ quoth he;        55
‘And grant me thy love, my pretty Bessee.’—

‘Let me be thy husband,’ the merchant did say,
‘Thou shalt live in London both gallant and gay;
My ships shall bring home rich jewels for thee,
And I will for ever love pretty Bessee.’        60

Then Bessy she sighed, and thus she did say,
‘My father and mother I mean to obey;
First get their good will, and be faithful to me,
And then you shall marry your pretty Bessee.’

To every one this answer she made,
Wherefore unto her they joyfully said,
‘This thing to fulfil we all do agree;
But where dwells thy father, my pretty Bessee?’

‘My father,’ she said, ‘is soon to be seen:
The silly blind beggar of Bednall-green,        70
That daily sits begging for charitìe,
He is the good father of pretty Bessee.

‘His marks and his tokens are known very well;
He always is led with a dog and a bell:
A silly old man, God knoweth, is he,        75
Yet he is the father of pretty Bessee.’

‘Nay then,’ quoth the merchant, ‘thou art not for me!’
‘Nor,’ quoth the innholder, ‘my wife thou shalt be.’
‘I lothe,’ said the gentle, ‘a beggar’s degree,
And therefore adieu, my pretty Bessee!’        80

‘Why then,’ quoth the knight, ‘hap better or worse,
I weigh not true love by the weight of the purse,
And beauty is beauty in every degree;
Then welcome unto me, my pretty Bessee.

‘With thee to thy father forthwith I will go.’—
‘Nay soft,’ quoth his kinsmen, ‘it must not be so;
A poor beggar’s daughter no lady shall be,
Then take thy adieu of pretty Bessee.’

But soon after this, by break of the day
The Knight had from Rumford stole Bessy away.        90
The young men of Rumford, as thick as might be,
Rode after to fetch again pretty Bessee.

As swift as the wind to ryde they were seen,
Until they came near unto Bednall-green;
And as the Knight lighted most courteouslìe,        95
They all fought against him for pretty Bessee.

But rescue came speedily over the plain,
Or else the young Knight for his love had been slain.
This fray being ended, then straightway he see
His kinsmen come railing at pretty Bessee.        100

Then spake the blind beggar, ‘Although I be poor,
Yet rail not against my child at my own door:
Though she be not deckèd in velvet and pearl,
Yet will I drop angels with you for my girl.

‘And then, if my gold may better her birth,
And equal the gold that you lay on the earth,
Then neither rail nor grudge you to see
The blind beggar’s daughter a lady to be.

‘But first you shall promise, and have it well known,
The gold that you dropt shall all be your own.’        110
With that they replied, ‘Contented be we.’
‘Then here’s,’ quoth the beggar, ‘for pretty Bessee!’

With that an angel he cast on the ground,
And dropped in angels full three thousand pound;
And oftentimes it was provèd most plain,        115
For the gentlemen’s one the beggar dropt twain:

So that the place, wherein they did sit,
With gold it was coverèd every whit.
The gentlemen then, having dropt all their store,
Said, ‘Now, beggar, hold, for we have no more,        120

‘Thou hast fulfilled thy promise aright.’—
‘Then marry,’ quoth he, ‘my girl to this Knight;
And here,’ added he, ‘I will now throw you down
A hundred pounds more to buy her a gown.’

The gentlemen all, that this treasure had seen,
Admirèd the beggar of Bednall-green:
And all those, that were her suitors before,
Their flesh for very anger they tore.

Thus was fair Bessy match’d to the Knight,
And then made a lady in others’ despite:        130
A fairer lady there never was seen
Than the blind beggar’s daughter of Bednall-green.

But of their sumptuous marriage and feast,
What brave lords and knights thither were prest,
The second fitt shall set forth to your sight        135
With marvellous pleasure and wished delight.


Of a blind beggar’s daughter most bright,
That late was betrothed unto a young Knight;
All the discourse thereof you did see:
But now comes the wedding of pretty Bessee.        140

Within a gorgeous palace most brave,
Adornèd with all the cost they could have,
This wedding was kept most sumptuouslìe,
And all for the credit of pretty Bessee.

All kind of dainties and delicates sweet
Were bought for the banquet, as it was most meet;
Partridge, and plover, and venison most free,
Against the brave wedding of pretty Bessee.

This marriage through England was spread by report,
So that a great number thereto did resort        150
Of nobles and gentles in every degree;
And all for the fame of pretty Bessee.

To church then went this gallant young Knight;
His bride followed after, an angel most bright,
With troops of ladies—the like ne’er was seen        155
As went with sweet Bessy of Bednall-green.

This marriage being solemnized then,
With musick performed by the skilfullest men,
The nobles and gentles sat down at that tide,
Each one admiring the beautiful bride.        160

Now, after the sumptuous dinner was done,
To talk and to reason a number begun:
They talk’d of the blind beggar’s daughter most bright,
And what with his daughter he gave to the Knight.

Then spake the nobles, ‘Much marvel have we,
This jolly blind beggar we cannot here see.’
‘My lords,’ quoth the bride, ‘my father’s so base,
He is loth with his presence these states to disgrace.’—

‘The praise of a woman in question to bring,
Before her own face, were a flattering thing,        170
But we think thy father’s baseness,’ quoth they,
‘Might by thy beauty be clean put away.’

They had no sooner these pleasant words spoke,
But in comes the beggar clad in a silk cloak;
A fair velvet cap, and a feather had he,        175
And now a musician forsooth he would be.

He had a dainty lute under his arm,
He touchèd the strings, which made such a charm,
Says, ‘Please you to hear any musick of me,
I’ll sing you a song of pretty Bessee.’        180

With that his lute he twangéd straightway,
And thereon began most sweetly to play;
And after that lessons were played two or three,
He strain’d out this song most delicatelìe.

‘A poor beggar’s daughter did dwell on a green,
Who for her fairness might well be a queen:
A blithe bonny lass, and a dainty was she,
And many one callèd her pretty Bessee.

‘Her father he had no goods, nor no land,
But begg’d for a penny all day with his hand;        190
And yet to her marriage he gave thousands three,
And still he hath somewhat for pretty Bessee.

‘And if any one here her birth do disdain,
Her father is ready, with might and with main,
To prove she is come of noble degree:        195
Therefore never flout at pretty Bessee.’

With that the lords and the company round
With hearty laughter were ready to swound;
At last said the lords, ‘Full well we may see,
The bride and the beggar’s beholden to thee.’        200

On this the bride all blushing did rise,
The pearly drops standing within her fair eyes,
‘O pardon my father, grave nobles,’ quoth she,
‘That through blind affection thus doteth on me.’

‘If this be thy father,’ the nobles did say,
‘Well may he be proud of this happy day;
Yet by his countenance well may we see,
His birth and his fortune did never agree:

And therefore, blind man, we pray thee bewray
(And look that the truth thou to us do say)        210
Thy birth and thy parentage, what it may be;
For the love that thou bearest to pretty Bessee.’—

‘Then give me leave, nobles and gentles, each one,
One song more to sing, and then I have done;
And if that it may not win good report,        215
Then do not give me a groat for my sport.

‘Sir Simon de Montfort my subject shall be;
Once chief of all the great barons was he,
Yet fortune so cruel this lord did abase,
Now lost and forgotten are he and his race.        220

‘When the barons in arms did King Henry oppose,
Sir Simon de Montfort their leader they chose;
A leader of courage undaunted was he,
And ofttimes he made their enemies flee.

‘At length in the battle on Evesham plain,
The barons were routed, and Montfort was slain;
Most fatal that battle did prove unto thee,
Though thou wast not born then, my pretty Bessee!

‘Along with the nobles, that fell at that tide,
His eldest son Henry, who fought by his side,        230
Was fell’d by a blow he received in the fight;
A blow that deprived him for ever of sight.

‘Among the dead bodies all lifeless he lay,
Till evening drew on of the following day;
When by a young lady discovered was he;        235
And this was thy mother, my pretty Bessee!

‘A baron’s fair daughter stept forth in the night
To search for her father, who fell in the fight,
And seeing young Montfort, where gasping he lay,
Was movèd with pity, and brought him away.        240

‘In secret she nurst him, and swagèd his pain,
While he through the realm was believed to be slain:
At length his fair bride she consented to be,
And made him glad father of pretty Bessee.

‘And now, lest our foes our lives should betray,
We clothèd ourselves in beggars’ array;
Her jewels she sold, and hither came we:
All our comfort and care was our pretty Bessee.

‘And here have we livèd in fortune’s despite,
Though poor, yet contented with humble delight:        250
Full forty winters thus have I been
A silly blind beggar of Bednall-green.

‘And here, noble lords, is ended the song
Of one that once to your own rank did belong:
And thus have you learnèd a secret from me,        255
That ne’er had been known, but for pretty Bessee.’

Now when the fair company every one,
Had heard the strange tale in the song he had shown,
They all were amazèd, as well they might be,
Both at the blind beggar, and pretty Bessee.        260

With that the fair bride they all did embrace,
Saying, ‘Sure thou art come of an hon’rable race;
Thy father likewise is of noble degree,
And thou art well worthy a lady to be.’

Thus was the feast ended with joy and delight,
A bridegroom most happy then was the young Knight,
In joy and felicitie long livèd he,
All with his fair lady, the pretty Bessee.


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